Sunday, June 18, 2017


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It's that time of the year again and on last Friday (16/6/2017) Dublin erupted into a thousand Bloomsday events. But none were as special as that held at the Martello Tower on Killiney Hill Road. No, this is not "Joyce's Tower" albeit in sight of the same snot green sea.

This is the magnificent restoration of Martello Tower No.7. Dublin South, by Niall O'Donoghue, a feat recognised as special by the Europa Nostra jury in 2014.

Sandycove is welcome to its annual splash, initiated by Myles na gCopaleen and a few others in 1954. Commemoration of James Joyce on Bloomsday there has now become a habit. But this is only the second Bloomsday commemoration at the Killiney Tower. It was initiated by the late David Hedigan in 2014 and it is a most exclusive affair - invitation only.

As you can see above, this year's celebration was novel in its conception. Felix M Larkin was giving us a miscellany of thoughts on Joyce with particular reference to the Freeman's Journal in Ulysses. Darren Mooney was recreating the drawing room atmosphere which is the background to some of Joyce's work, not forgetting that Joyce himself was no mean tenor and had written a series of love songs under the title Chamber Music.

Felix M Larkin

Felix, who is a former director of the prestigious Parnell Summer School, kicked off by reminding us of Joyce's attitude to Parnell. He puts Joyce firmly the Irish constitutional tradition and makes it clear he rejected any form of militant republicanism and narrow cultural nationalism.

I am a desperate one for connections, however tenuous. Felix tells us that Joyce's republican character, Michael Davin, in the Portrait of the Artist is based on George Clancy, who went on to become Sinn Féin mayor of Limerick and was murdered by crown forces on 6 March 1921, shortly after his election as mayor.

And the connection? Niall O'Donoghue's grandfather had been with Clancy just before his murder and you can read that true story here.

Felix goes on to illustrate the extent to which Ulysses is rooted in actuality by considering the opening sequence of the ‘Aeolus’ episode which is set in the offices of the Freeman’s Journal newspaper in North Prince’s street, Dublin – beside the GPO. But in setting the scene, and remembering that Felix is himself a historian, he reminds us, bluntly it has to be said, that the historian should be a kind of ‘bullshit detector’, with zero tolerance – and that is the spirit in which Joyce approaches his material.

It is at this point that Felix really gets into his stride. He is the historian of the Freeman's Journal and it is a recurring theme in his writings. Woe betide the audience that lets its mind wander and its attention flag at this point.

Preparations have been made to ensure strict attention and wakefulness and if the smaller cannon proves an insufficient threat to the inattentive ...

... then the eighteen pounder on the crown of the tower can be readied in forty-five minutes, somewhat along the lines of Saddam Hussein's rockets as recounted in the Dodgy Dossier. Just for the avoidance of doubt among the uninitiated, that work of fiction was not from the pen of Mr. Joyce.

But if Joyce sets the Aeolus chapter of Ulysses in the offices of the Freeman's Journal it is not out of respect for that newspaper. In fact Joyce held the Freeman and its staff in some disdain. Moreover, he seems to have held most, if not all, journalists in the same disdain, describing them as as ‘weathercocks’ – he writes: ‘One story good till you hear the next’.

We are told that Joyce’s final sneer at the Freeman in Ulysses occurs in the ‘Circe’ episode, set in Dublin’s nighttown: the title of the newspaper and that of its weekly compendium edition, the Weekly Freeman, are transmogrified into the ‘Freeman’s Urinal and Weekly Arsewiper’.

I have to interject here for the benefit of my younger readers who may be familiar with toilet tissue or even toilet rolls for doing the needful. These are a product of what to me is the modern age. They were preceded by medicated toilet paper whose properties led more to the spreading than the absorption of the remnants of No.2.

But before all that it was the practice, at least among the working classes, to cut the previous day's newspaper into small squares, pierce one corner, thread them with twine, and hang them on the lavatory wall. So many a paper in my day would have qualified for the title arsewiper not out of disrespet but out of necessity.

In our house that honour went to the Irish Press.

In his peroration Felix points out that Mr Bloom did not carry Joyce's disdain for the Freeman to its logical conclusion. When he visits the privy behind his home in Eccles Street, he did not use the Freeman to wipe himself clean but instead relied on the popular English magazine, Titbits.

Now there were some knowing giggles among the audience at this last bit. But this reveals a certain temporal problem in the cursory reading of Joyce.

In my day, Titbits was a soft porn magazine, a sort of titillator. In Joyce's time it presented a diverse range of tit-bits of information in an easy-to-read format. It didn't get its first pin-up until 1939.

If you're interested in the serious scholarly version of all this you can read Felix's full paper which he has generously put up on his website.

Darren Mooney

Now it's on to the second phase of the day's event, the music.

Joyce himself was musical. He had a fine tenor voice and, from memory, I think he won a few Feis prizes. There was also music around him. Moore's melodies, for example, were popular at social functions of the day. So Moore's melodies from tenor Darren Mooney were entirely appropriate to this particular commemoration.

Darren is from just down the road in Newtownmountkennedy in Co. Wicklow - somewhat beyond the range of the tower's cannon, but never mind. He charmed the audience so there will be no firing today. A singer whose abode is very much in range of the cannon is Bono, but that's for another day.

Darren's performance led us very nicely into that aspect of Joyce's life that we hear so little of. In fact Moore's melodies had gone somewhat out of vogue in the face of the great trad musical revival of the 1970s.

But, as Darren reminded us, they were the pop songs of their day. And they have some beautiful melodies along with decent lyrics. Even if the melodies were stolen, or recycled, Moore must be given credit for spreading them around and keeping them alive.

Darren had put together a nice selection and there was something very appealing in listening to a tenor out in the open and without electronic amplification half way up Killiney Hill.

If you're curious you can hear Darren sing Mio Caro Ben on his website. Not a Moore's melody but one with strong Irish connections if its claimed authorship is to be believed.

Jillian Saunders

A special mention for Jill.

There are two sorts of accompanists: true accompanists and soloists. Too many of the latter try to pass themselves off as also the former. but you cannot be both at the same time.

Not so Jill - a discreet empathic accompanist and a wonderful complement to the singer's performance. A great pleasure.

We ended up with an unexpected sing along version of Molly Malone when, ignoring the day's script and presumably somewhat over-enthused by the occasion, a Molly presented herself from among the audience and Darren was suitably gallant in his response.

Photo: Maeve Breen

An unexpected duet from Patricia Dolan and Darren Mooney to tie up the musical phase in style.

Family solidarity, Niall's sisters Maeve & Emer
Photo: Sovay Murray

Susan Hedigan

In the course of his performance as a wandering minstrel among the audience, Darren presented Susan with a bloom. This was Susan's birthday and the first time she had been back at the tower since her late husband's great performance here on Bloomsday 2014.

Ingrid & Rob Goodbody, Niall O'Donoghue

Niall had a bad fall a short while before and he was not completely recovered. He is one of those people who does not understand the word convalescence and, despite the possibility of having broken, or at least seriously damaged, some ribs he was out on site at 4am lugging stuff around.

But enough is enough and he was running out of steam. So he deputed Rob Goodbody to convey his appreciation to the participants and to thank the audience for coming, not to mention the caterers, whose catering we were about to sample. Some individuals had actually brought food to share, including lavender biscuits and succulent blueberry muffins.

Maghera Point from the Tower on the Day

I then laid aside the camera and proceeded to wind up the formal presentations by outlining the strong French connections between Killiney and France, carefully avoiding mentioning my own experience as an au pair boy.

The towers were built in 1804/5 to repel an expected French seaborne invasion. Thy owed much of their actual positioning in the Bay to the French Major La Chaussée who surveyed its military vulnerability in 1797. In the event, Napoleon never turned up, though the French appeared briefly elsewhere on the island.

Maghera Point, above, was the largest of the nine defensive emplacements in the Bay. It consisted of a tower and two batteries. It eventually fell victim to coastal erosion but was by then well beyond its use by date. Unlike Ozymandias, whose bits are still being discovered, it is gone forever.

You can also see in the picture where Edward Ball, having murdered his mother with a hatchet in Booterstown. dumped her body in the sea. But that too is a story for another day.

Myself reading from Joyce's Chamber Music
Photo: Sovay Murray

Back to La Chaussée, who went on to better things and became a financial intermediary between the British Government and the French Royalist rebels attempting to restore the monarchy and get rid of Napoleon. La Chaussée was involved in financing an unsuccessful attempt on Napoleon's life by the rebels, for which the perpetrators where duly executed.

So in this way, Killiney had connections with the highest level of the Government of France in the Napoleonic era.

Philippe Milloux

And there's more.

In attendance on the day was Philippe Milloux, Director of the Dublin Alliance Française. I didn't know it when I spoke, but the previous evening Philippe had been knighted by the French Government and was now a Chevalier de l'Ordre national du Mérite.

Short of an appearance of the full complement of the Knights of the Round Table, what more could be wished for to nicely cap the day.

Mark and Diana Richardson had earlier arrived in true vintage style in their 1918 Model T Ford. They were great to let guests have their photos taken in this precious relic of a bygone era. Lovely people.

Des Fahey
Photo: Sovay Murray

Niall's grandsons Matthew & Simon
Photo: Sovay Murray

After the refreshments and loads of chat, time came for us all to wend our weary way homeward. But for some the day was not yet over and Mark and Diana were leaving to participate in the rival ceremonials in Sandycove.

A real Model T Ford, in any colour you like as long as it's black, but complete with hooter.

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